She reached out and took the notepad from me and in carefully formed letters, wrote: Tamara Slavinska. I pronounced the words several times until her smile agreed that my Texas accent didn’t destroy the beauty of her name when spoken. In that instant we became friends and she repeated my name as we sat down with the others for afternoon tea.
Tamara made introductions for two other ladies born in the Ukraine, Angela Hudspeth and Varentyna Repiach. Kelly Dooley, Frances Wylie and I, native born Texans completed the guest list.
Tamara and Angela both married Texans and are American citizens; now adopted Texans. Varentyna is Angela’s mother and is visiting her daughter for a while. She speaks no English. Both Tamara and Angela speak English but are still in the learning process so that they sometimes struggle for words as we struggled to understand. Angela entertained us with her account of passing the new citizen test. This is a thorough test with a deep trip into American history. It has been said that this test would be a real challenge for native born Americans to pass. After she had taken the pledge along with other new citizens, she was ready to drive back home but her husband kept taking her to different places until finally they started home. When they turned onto the road leading to their house, neighbors were lined up and down the road holding big paper signs, waving crepe paper streamers and balloons in celebration of her new citizenship. She laughed remembering how great it was to be honored.
Tamara is also an American citizen and lives with her husband in a beautiful home that they built a couple of years ago.
“I grew up in the city,” she said in English heavily laced with an Ukrainian accent. “This is wonderful….paradise….as you might say. We want to raise cows and we have two now.”
Her laughter at the joke of ranching with only two cows showed that she understood the vastness of Texas cattle operations and only hoped to be there someday. The pretty blonde has an extensive education including three years in architecture school and six years as a civil engineer. She laughed again at thought that when she came to the United States, she was employed as a maid at a hotel in San Antonio. Today she has returned to a love of oil painting for her own enjoyment and that of her friends.
For a while the conversation was quiet as guests were served potato dumplings, plates of fruit including bananas and strawberries, cookies and cake were passed around and then a golden box of chocolates from the Ukraine. All of this was served with a wide choice of tea and honey. Inevitably the conversation came around to the Ukraine and the upheaval going on there.
Everyone at the table was aware of the strife throughout the streets of this little country on the edge of the Black Sea and faces grew solemn as the three ladies thought about family living there.
Tamara has two daughters, 23 and 32, and their families in Ukraine. They live in the capital, Kyiv (Kiev) with a population of almost 4,000,000 in the metropolitan area. She talks to them on the phone every day, sometimes more than once she says, and she makes face calls so that they can see each other when they talk. All the ladies watch the news but sometimes just have to turn it off and try to not think about the trouble there.
“I would not want the United States to send men over there to fight,” Tamara said. “Because it would be a big war. We don’t want the Russians there but Putin is not a man to back down and he would like to have Ukraine because of the Black Sea and putting military strength there. You don’t fight Putin with just a little knife,” she said.
Pictures on the news earlier in the day showed massive fires in the streets and residents resisting as they used sticks and rocks for weapons.
“No guns?” I asked.
“No. No guns. In Ukraine having guns is against the law. No one owns a gun. They are not sold. Only police have guns.” With so much unrest because of a failed government, Putin has sent armed Russian troops into the country which at one time was a part of the Soviet Union. All of the ladies expressed great stress at the thought of Russia taking over the country. They understand that their government has failed due in part to the theft of high government officials. Just a few months ago, President Yanocovick, fled to Russia taking most of Ukraine’s money with him.
The Ukraine is a country about the size Texas located in southeast Europe. It is bordered by Belarus on the north; Russia on the north and east; the Black Sea on the south; Moldova and Romania on the southwest and Hungary, Slovakia and Poland on the west. The little country has had a long and turbulent history including being a free nation and after a series of events, being absorbed into the Russian Empire. At one time the Soviet Unions’ collectivization policy led to a confiscation of grain from Ukrainian farmers so that the resulting famine took an estimated 5 million lives.
Tamara spoke of the many trials that her birth country has experienced including the world’s worst nuclear accident in 1986 at Chernobyl. The Ukrainian parliament voted to shut down the reactor and dismantle it. Because of a corrupt government and the unrest of neighboring Russia, Ukraine has suffered a great deal. The people would like to live in a democracy as here in the United States. Seventy percent of the people are Christian and each person is proud of his Bible if he is fortunate enough to have one of his own. Some local churches in this area contribute to the “Bibles for Europe” fund and the three Ukrainian women we met and visited with mentioned the pleasure of having their own Bible.
We snapped a couple of pictures of our new friends and turned to say goodbye. Tamara picked up the box of chocolates and handed it to me.
There were hugs all around as we said goodbye. Turning to Valentyna, I pointed to the necklace that she wore. There was a silver model of the state of Texas on a silver chain around her neck. “Texas” I said. “Welcome to Paradise.”